Feds to appeal brothel ruling

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OTTAWA – The federal government said Wednesday it will appeal an Ontario court ruling that, if left unchallenged, could see Canada become the Amsterdam of the North.

Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down Canada’s bawdy house provisions as unconstitutional and amended the pimping provisions of the Criminal Code so that only those exploiting hookers will be prosecuted.

But on Wednesday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson directed federal lawyers to challenge that ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada.

"It is our position that the Criminal Code provisions are constitutionally sound," Nicholson said in a statement. "It is important to clarify the constitutionality of the law and remove the uncertainty this decision has created. The Criminal Code provisions denounce and deter the most harmful and public aspects of prostitution."

Sex-trade workers had praised the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision when it was released March 26, saying that it gave them the legal right to set up safe and secure brothels.

The Ontario court ruling came after a constitutional challenge by dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, former sex worker Valerie Scott and current prostitute Amy Lebovitch. The legal action was fronted by Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young.

"I was absolutely horrified and saddened by the recent Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on prostitution," Conservative MP Roxanne James said Wednesday in the House of Commons. "Constituents in my own riding of Scarborough Centre, and Canadians for that matter, right across our great country, are very concerned about this ruling and the impact it will have on women, families and our communities."

Still, a poll taken just after the court ruling showed that James may be in the minority when it comes to the view of most Canadians.

A poll of more than 1,600 Canadians by Forum Research taken just after the Ontario court ruling found that 47% approved of the court’s decision that would make brothels legal while just 36% disapproved.

Scott, who is now the legal co-ordinator for the Sex Professionals of Canada, said at the time of the Ontario court ruling that without constitutional protection, sex-trade workers were in danger every day on the job.

"It is like serving us up on a silver platter to sexual predators," Scott said.

The federal government first has to convince the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada that the case is important enough to hear arguments.

"We believe that a binding national decision is required," Nicholson told the House of Commons. "Prostitution is harmful for society as it exploits Canada’s most vulnerable people, especially women. Canadians can continue to count on the government to protect those who are vulnerable to this kind of exploitation."